I have no idea how to cook. I was never taught to cook—not because my mother never offered to teach me, but purely because I had no interest in learning how to cook. It’s an intimidating activity—it’s literally chemistry—and wasting food (if things didn’t go right as they don’t often) makes me sad, so I forgo the whole thing altogether whenever possible.
Plus, I love eating out at restaurants. I love the whole experience: going out with my hubby, trying something new, how tasty the food I didn’t cook is.
However, I do still have a huge chunk of credit card debt AND student loan to pay off so eating out for lunch and/or for dinner more than once a week is not optimal on my current, modest salary… so, eventually, I did have to learn how to cook a few things so that my credit score wouldn’t hate me.
If you know me at all, then you know how lazy (and ignorant…) I am when it comes to cooking. I refuse to make anything with more than a ten or fifteen minutes of prep. Chop, dice, cube? It’s all the same to me: cut materials into smaller bits. If I can throw it into my crock pot or Instant Pot, even better! The fewer ingredients, the better.
I wanted to share a few tips and tricks that have gotten me through even the worst of my hangry episodes. When I fail to prepare ahead of time, I do often cave and go get fast food, so no judgment from me if you splurge on the occasional Big Mac.
Helpful tools to have: A crock pot and/or an Instant Pot. A medium sized pot to boil stuff. A frying pan. A baking sheet to roast stuff. A set of NICE knives (ESSENTIAL!!! Do not waste time struggling with crappy knives. Do not. It’s so annoying).
Common cooking stuff you might need: Olive oil. Butter. A bunch of spices. Rice. Pasta. Chicken.
Level 1: I really don’t feel like cooking
Cool, so you don’t feel like cooking. Do what my husband does: stock up on a bagels, cereal, milk, peanut butter, and other things you want to put on your bagel. Cream cheese, bacon, eggs. Buy yourself some fruit you love eating, plus a few energy bars. Personally, I really love Uncrustables (yes, I am secretly a twelve-year old). If you want to be a little fancy, as I sometimes do, you can grab some pre-packaged cheese cubes, nuts (like pistachios or almonds!), hummus, pita chips, a bag of salad, and smoked salmon. If you need a little more substance, you can go for Minute Rice (my Chinese ancestors are rolling in their graves right now). I personally love Minute Rice: no cooking, super fast, tastes just fine, fills me up. Basically, make yourself one of those bougie Starbucks protein boxes. For me, if I eat enough of a combination of any of the above, I will at least stop being hungry for a few hours until I can find my next round of snacks.
If you’re really dying for a little more substance, grab something from the frozen aisle and garnish it with something more wholesome, like nuts (or an Uncrustable, if you’re me :)).
Level 2: I have a little bit of time to cook and I’m not completely incompetent
If you can set aside about two hours on a Sunday night to cook, you can practically get away with not eating out for at least a whole work week! What you need to do to be successful here is lower your expectations and tell yourself that you won’t die if you eat the same meal two or three times a week, maybe even during the same day. That’s the part that gets me, personally, but I’ve found ways around it. Find three or four simple recipes you love to eat. If you’re not sure where to even begin, start with a staple like rice or pasta and just start adding stuff to it! Chicken tends to be the easiest meat to cook. You can season it, throw it on a pan or in the oven, and ka-bam. Cooked protein. Here are some recipes even I can throw together:
Chicken taco bowl (hat tip to my BFF Sarah for this one)
A large salad with chicken, plus ingredients of your choice (I like mixing caesar with mustard, and then adding pieces of sausage, onions, sunflower seeds, and green peppers)
Pasta with alfredo sauce, chicken, and broccoli (can be found in frozen food section, just microwave it)
Bake a frozen pizza
Grilled cheese w/canned soup
Roasted vegetables, potatoes, chicken; season to your liking (salt, pepper, olive oil, rosemary, etc.)
Cheesy pasta with broccoli
Pot roast in the crock pot (there are tons of recipes for this on Pinterest)
Sheet pan chicken fajitas (another recipe from Sarah)
If all else fails, just do what I do and go to Costco, buy some of their precooked or prepared meals, and eat those for three days. I love their lasagna and their stuffed bell peppers!
I do still cave into buying food or ordering take-out. I’m a creature of convenience and I just love eating certain foods that I can’t even fathom cooking in my own kitchen. What I’ve found most effective in saving money with food is making sure I’m prepared ahead of time. It’s easier for me to evade my own impulses when I can open my refrigerator or cupboards and see something quick and easy to prepare and eat. My last resort “emergency” dinner is ramen and the last time I did that (like last week), I deeply regretted my decision. Just this week, I tried to avoid the temptation of eating out by stocking up on combinations of food that I like to eat and that are easy to make: grilled cheese, canned soups, salmon, bagels, eggs. The bottom line is this: one or two hours of prep a week can save you SO much money. Even learning to cook one or two recipes once a month or so has made world of difference for me.
Got a super duper easy recipe you LOVE? Please share away!